Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Sublime

The following is an excerpt from my history journal. I include it here because the exploration of Oklahoma's sublime landscapes are worth pursuing. As the semester continues to swallow my time, I look forward to pursuing some of these thoughts when I have more time.

The Sublime in the Modern World

April 21, 2007

I wonder if our modern notions of the sublime have changed. We have ferreted out the myths of the deep forest. We understand the brooding of the sky, and we have neutralized the natural cycles of the earth with air conditioning.

I have sat on the edge of the Pacific in winter. Storm clouds eminent and imposing, I have walked to the edge of the sea. Dwarfed by the expanse of beach and sea that recedes into the unknown, I have walked on the sea shore at midnight. The sublime still exists. Reading “Richard Haag Bloedel Reserve and Gas Works Park” edited by William S. Saunders furthered some of my thoughts on this. I have been to Bloedel Reserve. I was in my late 20’s, but well before I headed back to college to get my undergraduate degree. I probably didn’t even know what sublime meant, but I could experience it.

Growing up on the West Coast, I don’t think that the giant trunks of the fallen first growth forest have the same impact as someone that is unfamiliar with them. I remember visiting cousins in the Snohomish and Pilchuck valleys and giant trunks could be found through out the forest floor. Traveling up Steven’s Pass, old trunks littered the roadsides and public parks. Haag’s use of a tight carpet of moss in stark contrast with the immense trunks did not leave a lasting impression. As I look back at the pictures, I see the statement they say. As a lay person it was the large expanse of meadow that contrasted so sharply with the Puget Sounds suffocating forest. Roads of the Pacific Northwest do not seem to have elbow room. Even the long stretches of six lanes of I-5 can have a tunnel effect with the trees tall enough to overshadow the road.

Interchanges off of the wide expanse of freeway to the more narrow side roads are dramatic. I would say even sublime in areas. Saunders refers to our sense of technology as having the ability to threaten and cause subtle terror. Exiting the wide comfortable and occupied expanse of I-5 on to a mere four-lane that disappears into a shaded curve can give a soft sense of the terror and wonder. The road grade lifts softly and the peaks of the snow capped cascades loom. The deep forest green of the fir and hemlock branches grasp the ground and reach for the road. The brazen alder and maple step out of the forest edge and warn of the impeding stampede of vegetation should man hesitate or blink.

At Bloedel the sublime is much more controlled. As an insider that understood the great man power required to maintain such a garden, I was not fooled or overly awed by the moss garden or the reflection pool. I could see that man was in control, and by stating that I am implying that man having control of a situation is at odds with the concept of the sublime. However, stepping through the clearing, I will not forget the sense of diminutiveness and grand scale. The Bloedel Estate is not small. It is a large estate. But it is dwarfed in scale and grandeur by the extensive view off the end of Bainbridge Island. Although I would not say that the weather or the water imposed any immediate threat, there was a feeling of vulnerability. The view is beautiful and grand. I felt very insignificant when even the large Bloedel House seemed dwarfed by the scale of its surroundings.

Haag’s attention to the sublime at Bloedel and Gas Works is notable. It makes me look around to see what in Oklahoma could inspire. The Wichita’s with their unusual rock mountains and large expanses of prairie could incur a feeling of vulnerability and isolation in the middle of great beauty. However, I think it is the tremendous thunderheads that appear on the horizon, march across the prairie and loom at such tremendous heights invoke the greatest feeling of the sublime.

Some Landscapes has a great website that explores some of these issues. The picture I previous posted of the truck with the dust storm over taking it is not a landscape that should be pursued. However, there are some more opportunities to be explored.